Ever feel like your disciplinary “bag o’ tricks” is just not cutting it? Some days it may feel like we’re trying just about anything and everything to get our kids in line. Time outs. Taking toys away. Restrictions. The list goes on and on.
I knew something was wrong with my bag of tricks when my son actually asked me to put him in time out. It finally clicked to me that while he understood cause and effect, he wasn’t learning anything through my discipline. And if it’s my job to “train up a child in the way he should go,” (Proverbs 22:6) then my disciplinary tactics needed to involve a lot more training than what I was providing.
So how do you do that exactly with an emotional/ irrational child who’s bent on defiance? The answer for our family has been “creative consequences.” Here’s an example:
My daughter always makes cards for our family members when special occasions arise. She’ll grab a favorite piece of scrapbook paper, markers, stickers—whatever she can find—and get to work creating a celebratory masterpiece of preschooler proportions. So imagine my disappointment when she boldly rejected the idea of making her great-grandfather a card for his upcoming birthday.
Now, we’d just come off of a string of family celebrations and I knew she was just worn out. But I also wanted to teach her to understand how her actions would make someone else feel. So I allowed her to choose her consequence:
“That’s fine, honey, if you don’t want to make Papa a birthday card. But when we go to his birthday party tonight, I want you to know you are going to have to tell him why.”
My daughter stared and the floor and pondered this for a minute. Then, she looked up at me with “oh-I-don’t-want-to-do-that” eyes and said, “Lemme make one real quick.”
Done and done.
I’ve also witnessed how creative consequences can help with training kids at any age, too. What do you think you might do with a teenager who has trouble coming home at curfew? Taking away the car sounds like an easy solution but they won’t actually learn much about being a responsible part of the family. What if you let him keep the car, but only to take Grandma to the doctor and Little Brother to soccer practice?
Training requires teaching. Teaching requires a plan. Here are a few tips to help you with developing your own plan:
- Come up with a consequence that can take place as close to the infraction in question as possible.
- Choose one consequence and stick with it. If a child is acting inappropriately at the dinner table, it’s fine to let them know they won’t get dessert. But taking away the bedtime story and the extra snuggle before bed is probably over-kill, considering the “crime.”
- Don’t choose a consequence you can’t stick with. I find this happens when you choose a consequence that punishes you more than it trains them.
- Consider consequences that require the child to do something uncomfortable rather than simply taking something away. If the goal is to train our children to think differently, they need to practice.
The thing I love about creative consequences is also how rational they force me to become with disciplining my kids. If you struggle with emotional reactions, try coming up with a creative consequence instead. The few extra seconds it takes to come up with a good lesson are all you need to go from Frazzled Graceless Mom to Collected Grace-Filled Mom. I think you’ll also find that when you’re able to calmly offer a consequence rather than lashing out with a punishment, you’ll also free yourself from that “punishment guilt” that so many of us wrestle with.
Written by Michelle Hutchison